Monday, February 21, 2011

Day 16: Internet shopping and letting go

During the 40 Day Yoga Challenge, we were asked to consider giving up something.  Initially, I thought we were going to be required to give up caffeine and alcohol and sugar, but these teachers are embracing a gentler encouraging style (this is Berkeley, home of anti-authoritarianism, after all.)  Rather than requiring adherence to a strict set of rules, the teachers have suggested the path we might consider, leaving the decisions up to us.

In relief that I wasn't required to give up caffeine and alcohol - though I'm consciously trying to reduce my consumption of both - I've sworn off random online shopping for the 40 Days.  It's been easy to justify internet shopping, as my wardrobe has slowly been going through a major upgrade from grad student clogs and hoodies to professional professorial chic.  I typically have a hard time finding things I like when I set out to purposely shop, so when I see something that appeals to me, I tend to buy it.  Still, my online shopping has been a little haphazard, and doesn't always fill in the necessities for my closet.  This little break will allow me to be more aware of what I have and what I truly need. 

These beauties caught my eye today.  Maybe they'll find a good home with someone who's not on a shopping ban.

Tucker, via Piperlime

Via Piperlime

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Days 9 - 12: Polarities

With teaching and up-coming deadlines, my week felt extra busy.  Why was I always so crunched for time?  Oh, it's the two-three hours each day required to get myself to the yoga studio, change, practice, drive home and shower. The addition of this daily commitment sent me careening between the polarities of stress and stillness.  Sitting in rush hour traffic, cursing the car trying to make a left turn ahead of me, I had plenty of time to contemplate the cosmic irony of getting stressed out on the way to yoga class - and the phenomenon of getting more stressed by doing more yoga.  By adding an extra commitment to my day, yoga was creating more, not less, stress.

I don't think it's supposed to work this way.  I suppose there's a reason why so many enlightened yogis in India were renunciates who had given up their homes, occupations and families to wander and meditate.  Unperturbed by the many distractions of daily life, they had all the time in the world to practice postures, breathing and meditation, until - POOF - they became enlightened.

I've always appreciated the Tibetan Buddhist path that claims the way to enlightenment is not to escape from the world, but to find peace and enlightenment within it, and within the practice of daily activities.  This path seems so much more practical to me:  not everyone wishes to renounce the usual aspects of their lives, but everyone can seek enlightenment within their lives.  I'm hoping that will be my experience of the 40 Day Yoga Challenge - a retreat from daily life within daily life.  I started this challenge with the hope that the additional structure of going to yoga class every day would require me to become more structured and disciplined in my daily life. (God knows I need it when my task for an entire day is "write article."  That clearly needs to broken down into more manageable and accountable steps.)

The retreat from daily life within daily life is working, but I'm not sure that I'm a calmer, more compassionate person outside of yoga class... when I'm stressing about getting to the next yoga class.  Sometimes, I feel like a recovering addict, constantly looking for my next AA meeting, and scheduling my days around when I can get to a meeting.  "No dear, I can't meet the plumber then, I'll be at yoga class... Can we push back the dinner?  I have to go to yoga class first."

Today, I decided to take a break, using my one 'day of rest from asana' per week to go to the climbing gym inside of yoga class.  I was pleasantly surprised by the strengthening and conditioning effects this first week of regular practice has had.  Perhaps next week will bring the mental calmness I was expecting...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Day 8: Accountability

I really didn't want to go to class tonight, even though it was my favorite teacher and a class I usually go to.  I was exhausted, feeling wrung out from the week, just wanting to veg in front of the tv.

Fortunately, another 40 Day Challenger said to me yesterday evening, as we parted ways, "See you tomorrow."

Such simple words.  And just enough to get me to class.

It got me thinking again about how we show up for one another in the world, and how simple actions of being present can inspire others to reach higher.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Days 7: Yoga on Skis

During the 40 Day Challenge, Saturdays are reserved for group meetings of the participating yogis.  We get information on diet, deepening the practice, staying motivated.  I'm missing this week's Saturday meeting to play in the snow.

I've found a local yoga class so I won't miss a day of yoga.  But it turns out yoga and skiing are actually quite similar.  Cross country skiing is actually just a series of Forward Lunges, over and over. 

Afterward, downward-facing dog is always a good resting pose:

Followed by headstand to relax tired legs:

Eventually, I'll work my way up to Dancer on skis:

Friday, February 11, 2011

Days 5 & 6: Gift Waves

Each week of the Forty Day Yoga Challenge has a theme.  This first week's theme was Presence:  we were to start tuning into what is going on in our bodies, with our diet, with ourselves in the world around us.  A week of Paying Attention, not zoning out.  We kept track of our meals, noting when, what, and why we ate, and how it affected us.  (Turns out I usually eat when I'm hungry, and feel more energized afterwards.  That suggests that my diet's in pretty good shape, I think.)

The synchronicities of the week were rather amazing.  At work yesterday, a colleague spoke about her grown daughter's presence as someone close to them died.  During a lengthy period of decline of this loved one, the daughter stayed nearby, unwaveringly observing the present moment and witnessing the decline without flinching or turning away, promising to stay nearby, even though she lived across the country, until recovery was achieved (which turned out not to be possible).  My colleague said that while others were undone by the death, the daughter remained calm, though sad, because she had fully embraced every moment of the decline.  

The story was an incredibly moving reminder to pay attention to the important moments that are happening all around us, everyday.

Another colleague told me that in the Tibetan language, the term "presence," especially that of a lama or enlightened being, is literally translated as "gift waves."  I love the idea that our focused attention on a person or situation might be felt emanating outward as gift waves, that attention itself is a gift. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Day 4: On showing up

What does a yogi or yogini look like?

Tall, thin, buns of steel, guns perfectly defined, exceptional limber, beatific smile upon the face, eyes dreamily half-closed, rad dragon tattoo over the shoulder.  Right?  That's how a yogi - an American yogi, that is - looks in my mind's eye.

Then there's the Indian yogi in the loin cloth, long grey hair, and marigold mala.  Perhaps with some colorful paint on his face. Possibly with a bit of a belly.  Still with the beatific smile, though.

Like 19th century Yogavatar Shyama Charan Lahiri, also known as Lahiri Mahasaya, described in Autobiography of a Yogi.
 Matching neither of these descriptions myself, I've never identified with the name.  A yogi was someone else, someone who had practiced for a long time, someone who went on retreats, someone who practiced at home.  Someone who used the term 'practice.'  I was just someone who went to yoga class.

But when I had to introduce myself to the other 40 day challenge yogis, I realized that eleven years is quite a bit of experience with yoga, and studying in India did make me rather dedicated.  Then when the instructor of the first class during the Challenge identified the "40 day challenge yogis," and the rest of the class applauded, I realized that maybe the flexibility, and slenderness, and tats didn't matter so much.  What mattered was showing up.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Days 1-3: You say you want a revolution....

 Ye-aah, we all want to change the world.

And starting within, with the self, is where change begins.  I saw His Holiness the Dalai Lama speak about world peace years ago.  Much to my surprise, he spent most of his talk focusing on how to develop personal peace, through calming the mind.  Only toward the end of his talk did he explain that world peace is impossible without personal peace and equanimity within, and that family, neighborhood, regional and global peace flow outward from the peace within.

I'm kind of on a yoga high in these first few days of the yoga revolution.  Although it's a bit tricky to find time for class everyday, I leave feeling lighter and more energized.

However, I fear I'm making the world at large worse from my yoga practice.  Why?  Because I have increased my driving a hundred-fold, at least.  I normally bike walk* to the train to get to work, bike or walk to do errands, and, like that famed little old lady, only drive my car once a week - usually to yoga.

But now I'm schlepping seven miles across town, typically in morning or evening traffic which is slow and congested, to attend yoga classes every day.  It's too dark and cold in the evenings to bike, and with connections, the train takes nearly an hour.  I hate to think of all the extra carbon dioxide and other pollution my car is spewing into the world so that I can be a calmer, more centered yogi.

This is the kind of transport I need:
Environmentally-sound yogic transport, as seen in Amsterdam, here.

Why not just find class in the neighborhood?  When I find a teacher I like, I am shockingly dedicated.  I have tried other teachers in the past few years, but always end up going to back to the same teacher, who seems to offer the perfect balance of physical challenge and spiritual practice.  When I go to other classes, I'm like Goldilocks:  that one's too slow, that one's too fast, oooo, this one's JUST RIGHT.  

The benefit of the yoga challenge is that it forces me to branch out a bit, since my favorite teacher doesn't teach every day.  Last night, I went to a class by a new teacher, that I normally would  have passed by.  The class was both intense and restorative - entirely different from my usual teacher's style of teaching - and the teacher had an incredibly soothing voice.  I left the class unusually calm and energized.  A really pleasant discovery.

*I did bike until stupid thugs stole my locked bike right off the front porch.  In broad daylight.  While I was home!  I didn't answer when they banged on the door, and when I came out, the bike was gone.  Joke's on them, though, because the 15-year-old mountain bike wasn't worth $50.  But it sure was handy for tooling around town.